In Person: Delphine Griffith ’20

Exploring Eden, Elvis, and Eels

Fieldwork on the Hudson River. Study abroad in Paris. A semester at sea. Celtic harpist Delphine Griffith ’20 has done it all while at Sarah Lawrence, and she’s not done yet.

Delphine Griffith ’20 was born and raised in Northern California, but she decided to journey east for college, choosing Sarah Lawrence “because I wanted to venture outside of my comfort zone and explore a new and exciting environment.”

She got her wish sophomore year doing fieldwork at SLC’s Center for the Urban River at Beczak, when she found herself knee-deep in a frigid marsh counting “really slimy” glass eels on their midwinter migration up the Hudson River. “It’s really cool,” she reports. “One time I counted 127 eels in one session!”

Enumerating the many highlights of Griffith’s undergraduate years can be just as slippery a task. Intent on immersing herself in an eclectic course of study that would allow her to simultaneously delve into her twin passions—music and environmental science—the accomplished Celtic harpist and avid outdoorswoman seized every educational opportunity that came her way. In addition to chasing those slimy eels, she studied music and French in Paris, spent a semester at sea on a 136-foot research vessel in the Caribbean, served as an educator/deckhand aboard the Hudson River sloop Clearwater, and played her harp in the Sarah Lawrence improv orchestra.

“I don’t want to be boxed into a singular area of study or understanding of the world.”

Griffith’s zeal for academic high adventure proved well suited to the College’s integrative ethos. “I like studying how everything is interconnected in the interdisciplinary pathways that make the environment, landscapes, music, and language,” she explains, “and everything else not as drastically different or conflicting as society would like you to think.”

The electronic music studio course she took last fall is a perfect example. “I like pulling sounds from the world around me,” Griffith says—like raindrops dripping on a metal pipe or a sheet of ice crackling under her shoe—“and mixing them with acoustic inputs from my harp.”

Griffith’s conference projects offered her additional pathways to pursue the intersections of her wide-ranging interests. Among other topics, she’s examined the influence of the Eden myth on the American conservation movement; explored how the music of Elvis Presley, Bob Marley, and other artists shape tourism; and conducted experiments using cigarette butts to see how different types of algae filter out pollutants in their environment.

Notice the pattern? There isn’t one. Explains Griffith: “I don’t want to be boxed into a singular area of study or understanding of the world.”

Singular, however, is an apt word to describe Griffith’s electric intellect. Her don, Eduardo Lago (literature, Spanish), who taught Griffith in his first-year European literature seminar, recalls how she spotted a discrepancy having to do with the protagonist in Franz Kafka’s The Castle—“something that most scholars haven’t noticed,” Lago says. “I also remember when she was reading [Gustave] Flaubert, every sentence, almost every word, was like a world for her.”

Looking beyond graduation, Griffith’s world beckons. Her plans aren’t firm, though environmental advocacy, a lifelong interest that deepened during her months at sea, is a strong contender. But she’s open, as always, to whatever other intriguing opportunities might wriggle into her net.